MPC unleashes demons, battling samurai and fire on 47 Ronin
MPC completed approximately 250 shots on fantasy adventure 47 Ronin, working on a wide range of effects from fully CG characters to digital environments.
Led by VFX Supervisor Nicolas Aithadi, the MPC team worked on the long-awaited 3D epic from Universal Pictures, helmed by director Carl Rinsch and starring Keanu Reeves. It follows the adventures of 47 leaderless samurai who, seeking vengeance and to restore honour to their people, must seek the help of half-breed Kai (Reeves) as they fight their way across a savage world of mythic beasts, shape-shifters, witchcraft and terror.
MPC revealed that one of the biggest challenges was the ‘Oni’ sequence. This involved the creation and animation of a fully CG character called the Oni, a creature the filmmakers derived from the mythic Japanese Yōkai demon.
MPC’s art department worked from original artwork from the production and developed the character as a CG sculpt, focussing on the details of the creature. MPC’s rigging department focused on a skin-and-animation setup that would allow the animation department to bring the complex creature to life. The muscle and skin interaction was the main focus of this R&D process. A massive library of reference material was gathered, and a professional model was hired by MPC and shot in a four-synced camera setup to be used as animated reference. Once the character was modeled, rigged and animated, MPC’s lighting team took it to the next stage, giving the character its photo-real skin.
The Oni fight sequence was shot with Keanu Reeves as Kai fighting seven and half-foot stunt man (Neil Fingleton) dressed in a Lycra suit adorned with tracking markers. MPC’s roto/prep department was charged with the time-consuming task of digitally removing Fingleton so the compositing team was able to replace him with the CG Oni.
The sequence takes place in the hull of the boat, which is part of a small flotilla tied together to create a small island. Called Dutch Island, it was one of the most complex environments MPC worked on for 47 Ronin. A section of the island had been built on a stage in Hungary, and hundreds of photographs were taken as reference. MPC’s team built and extended the ships for the close-ups, as well as for a few wide establishing shots that show the scope of the structure.
The Samurai tournament was another sequence that required a fully digital environment. The idea was to create a Japanese setting that would ring true to life, but also would convey a sense of magic.
Additionally, MPC was tasked with the ambush sequence in which the Ronin are trapped in a massive circle of fire. The sequence was shot on set at Shepperton Studios using a controlled fire, but more was need in order to illustrate real danger. MPC used a combination of live-action fire elements, CG fire and arrows to achieve a very dramatic sequence. The sequence takes place in a wheat field that was digitally extended in most shots.